I get asked a lot of questions about why Trent Cull won’t play the kids in Utica. I’m here to tell you that I don’t think it’s for a lack of trying.
The coach can only throw 12 forwards out on the ice in any given game. That’s just the way it is. The issue that the coaching staff find themselves with is that they currently have 17 forwards on their roster.
Of those 17, Carter Bancks, Wacey Hamilton, Cam Darcy, Brendan Woods, Vincent Arseneau, and Tanner MacMaster are on AHL deals with the Comets.
One of the reasons why the parent Canucks cut ties with the Chicago Wolves was because they didn’t own the team and didn’t like seeing their prospects sitting in favour of players who were signed by Wolves ownership.
The Canucks bought the Peoria Rivermen franchise and moved them to Utica six years ago, partly in order to have more control over how their prospects were being deployed.
With that in mind, it’s easy to opine that the coaching staff should sit the AHL contracted players and play the kids instead. There are a few issues with that line of thinking, however.
One of those players, Carter Bancks, is the captain of the team and often has a younger player on his line or on the penalty kill with him as he shows them the ropes of playing a complete game at the AHL level. He is the captain for a reason and has earned that trust from not just Trent Cull, but from Canucks head coach, Travis Green before him. Bancks will be playing most games if he’s healthy.
Another one of those AHL contracted players is Tanner MacMaster. The 22-year-old forward who joined the Comets out of Quinnipiac late last season has been found money of sorts for the organization and is well worth developing further. In his 19 games between this year and last, he has put up 12 points, or 0.63 points per game. He also led all Comets rookies with four points in their five-game playoff series with the Toronto Marlies. He has played in all six games this year and has five points. He should be playing, he’s earned it.
Wacey Hamilton is currently injured and is listed as week-to-week. He hasn’t factored into the equation yet, but as a staple on last season’s very good penalty kill, and a player who wore an “A” on his jersey, he will very likely be high on the coach’s list to get back out there when he’s healthy, but for now I won’t factor him into the 12 man forward group. FYI, last season was also a career-year for Hamilton.
Vincent Arseneau has yet to play a game, so I’m not sure we can put any blame on his presence in the line up as a reason why the kids aren’t playing. That said, after a 6-1 loss, it’s entirely possible that the coach may insert him into the lineup to shake things up.
That brings us to Brendan Woods and Cam Darcy. Darcy has a previous history with Cull from their time in the Syracuse organization, and he provided decent secondary scoring last season in Utica while working on both special teams at times. He has earned the coach’s trust, though Cull has scratched him once this year already. He’s got three points in his five games. Darcy plays the middle, which if you aren’t aware, isn’t exactly a position of strength for the Comets.
Woods has played in all six games this year and has put up two points while also eating up minutes on the penalty kill. He also plays the middle, brings a physical game, and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves when needed. He too, has earned the trust of the coaching staff.
The common theme here, if you are following along, is that these players have all earned a certain level of trust with the coaching staff. A couple of them also play a position where the team is lacking proper depth.
The only Canucks’ signed players to start the season in Utica who are centres…and who’ve been playing centre regularly were Tanner Kero and Adam Gaudette. Gaudette is now in Vancouver, making Darcy and Woods all the less likely to come out of the lineup.
The AHL contracted players only make up six of the 17 forwards that Cull has to juggle in and out of the lineup. If we assume that Bancks, MacMaster, Darcy, and Woods will all be playing because of the above-mentioned reasons, that leaves us with just eight spots left to round out a 12-man forward group.
With 10 points through six games, you’d be a fool to suggest sitting Reid Boucher, so now we are down to seven roster spots remaining. Tanner Kero, well he has six points in six games, and oh yeah, he plays the middle and works on both special teams. Six spots remaining.
Darren Archibald? A healthy scratch? Not likely, outside of sitting for the veteran rule. Even then, the man that is known as The Mayor in Utica isn’t likely going to sit. He kills penalties as well. Down to five spots.
Should Trent Cull park Zack MacEwen? He is second in team scoring with six points and plays the power play. MacEwen just keeps improving and he has earned the coach’s trust since early last season when he was pressed into top-six action early on. The team knows that they have a player in MacEwen and it sounds like they have a plan in place for him. Four spots remaining.
There’s that Brendan Gaunce fellow, and he will be playing. He is currently listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury, but he sounds like he isn’t far off. For now, we won’t include him. Still, four spots remaining.
That leaves us with a group consisting of Michael Carcone, he put up 15 goals last season as a second-year pro, played both special teams and has two points in the three games he’s played this year, Jonathan Dahlen, Lukas Jasek, Kole Lind, Petrus Palmu, and Jonah Gadjovich.
Math has never been an area of strength for me, but I’m not sure that you can squeeze six forwards into the remaining four roster spots.
So Trent Cull and his staff have been shuffling that group of six in and out of the lineup. All but Palmu have seen time on either the power play, the penalty kill, or both. They may not be getting a lot of games in, but they are getting some quality opportunities when they do get in.
I understand that Lukas Jasek has even been practicing as a centre as the team may want to take a look at him in the middle. That would give Jasek that much more opportunity to pick up more ice-time.
Do you remember what I was pointing out above with players earning Cull’s trust and staying in the lineup? I believe that he is giving these young players chances on special teams in order to help them earn his trust this year. When Zack MacEwen, Guillaume Brisebois, and Jalen Chatfield proved to the coaching staff that they could handle bigger roles last year, they got to keep those roles.
I can see the same thing happening this season with the group of six as they continue to prove to the coach that he needs to keep them in the lineup. Frankly, the only reason Carcone is in that group is that he was a healthy scratch for the first three games.
Six Pack Shuffle
- Jonathan Dahlen: Five games played, three assists, two penalty minutes. Gets time on PP. Linemates to date: Kero, Bancks, Gaunce, Gaudette, Archibald, Jasek.
- Michael Carcone: Three games played, one goal, one assist, 0 PIM. Gets time on PK. Linemates to date: Archibald, Darcy, Bancks, Jasek.
- Kole Lind: Four games played, two assists, two penalty minutes. Gets time on PP. Linemates to date: Woods, MacEwen, Bancks, Gaudette, Archibald.
- Lukas Jasek: Three games played, one goal, 0 PIM. Gets time on PP. Linemates to date: Bancks, Carcone, Dahlen, Gadjovich.
- Jonah Gadjovich: Two games played, 0 points, 0 PIM. Gets time on PP and PK. Linemates to date: Darcy, MacEwen, Bancks, Jasek.
- Petrus Palmu: Two games played, 0 points, 0 PIM. No special teams work. Linemates to date: Gaudette, Archibald, Woods, MacEwen.
I don’t think there is any conspiracy from Trent Cull and his staff to stifle these young players, in fact, I believe it to be the opposite. Zack MacEwen has gushed about this coaching staff in radio interviews that I have heard, and he had a pretty good rookie season last year. I think these guys know what they are doing.
For now, it is a numbers game until the injuries hit and the call-ups happen, but I think that if folks show some patience for the long game here, you won’t be so disappointed when the season wraps up. These kids will play.
Is it even possible, right now to get every player into the lineup who we know will be playing as well as all of the kids? Yes, almost…but I’m not sure it’s a lineup that Trent Cull would have an appetite to roll with just yet.
Dahlen – Kero – Boucher
Archibald – MacMaster – Jasek
Lind – Darcy – MacEwen
Gadjovich – Bancks – Palmu
That lineup leaves the 15-goal man, and swiss army knife, Michael Carcone out in the cold as well as that Brendan Gaunce fellow who might be back before this article goes up on the site.
What does a more realistic lineup with the current healthy group look like? Maybe something like this?
Dahlen/MacMaster – Kero – Boucher
Archibald – Darcy – Carcone/Dahlen
Lind/Palmu – Woods – MacEwen
Dahlen/Gadjovich – Bancks – Jasek
Or…more or less what Trent Cull and his staff have been doing since the start of the season.
So, can you be angry with the coaching staff for not giving your favourite young prospects a fair shake? No, in my opinion, you can’t. They have a juggling act to perform with these kids and thinking that they have anything but their best interests in mind as players would be a foolish assumption on your part. Their job is to develop these players into NHL regulars and put them in positions to succeed. They see these players in practice, and they identify what they need to work on and help them to improve in those areas.
Can you be angry at management for having too many forwards on the roster? Maybe, but after using close to 60 players last season and gobbling up ECHL players on PTO deals on the regular, maybe having a few extra bodies around isn’t such a bad idea. Should you blame management for having too many good young players in Utica that you want to see playing? Uh…sure, if you want.
Until these young players are up to speed, they will need some insulation around them and management has identified the current group of insulators as players of high character who fit the culture that they want to have in Utica.
The club could elect at some point to send Gadjovich back to junior if they feel like his development is being compromised as his contract can “slide”, meaning they wouldn’t eat up a year of his entry-level deal. They don’t have the same benefit with Kole Lind if they were to send him back to junior.
They could also try to do something like Kyle Dubas’ Maple Leafs and place a prospect or two in the ECHL for a spell to help them get up to speed at the pro level.
When Gaunce and Hamilton are back, even more decisions will have to be made up front. Not to mention the fact that the addition of Alex Biega puts the club one player over the veteran limit that can be played in a given game.
Is it possible that we could see a trade made by Vancouver to alleviate this situation somewhat? I suppose it’s possible. It might make a few player agents happier. Until that happens, though, the word of the day in Utica is patience.